Day 7: Roma!

Seemed a few people stayed up late last night talking and hanging out… They were fairly easy to spot with their bleary eyes and shuffling gate. Those of us who turned out the lights at a reasonable time were bright and bushy-tailed as we enjoyed our breakfast of cereal, buns, cheese and ham (Italians do a lot of things well food-wise but boy do they know ham!) and juices. After scarfing down our breakfast of champions it was time to pile on the bus to face Rome’s infamous Monday morning rush hour. Depending on traffic, the trip into Rome from our hotel can take anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours.

This morning also marked the first allocation of dick points thus far as one of our kids (who shall remain nameless) lost his wallet the day before. Fortunately, it did not have his passport in it but it did have his last bit of cash and his ATM card… An unfortunate way to start the day for sure… And it was raining…

Turns out our bus driver knew a trick or two and got us into Rome in just over an hour. Which turned out to be a bit of a bummer as our appointment for our Colosseum tour wasn’t for another 45 minutes and the rain was falling pretty hard by this point… So we did what all good Romans do… We headed for the metro station and hid in there until we had to go join our tour guide… At least they had coffee.

At our appointed time, we joined the queue of groups heading into the Colosseum and met up with our tour guide for the morning. She was a nice lady and spoke good English… but the combination of static and feedback from our Whisper sets and her accent (much better than the woman in Venice) made it pretty hard to hear her again. Nevertheless, we roamed around the displays for a bit before heading into the Colosseum itself. The rain was still falling pretty steadily so we didn’t linger as much as we probably would have if the sun had been shining.

After the Colosseum we entered the Roman forum – the old commercial and political heart of the city – and home to six layers of historical buildings and some quite spectacular ruins. Unfortunately, the rain was really coming down at this point so our tour was a bit truncated. We exited the forum at the entrance to the Capitoline Museum (an excellent museum I wish we had time to visit) and the “wedding cake” with its monument to Victor Emmanuel and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and walked the block or two to our waiting bus.

From the Colosseum and Forum, we headed over to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. We piled off the bus near the entrance to the Vatican Museum and made our way past the teeming hordes waiting in line (in the pouring rain) to buy their tickets and headed to our meeting spot. We confirmed the meeting time and place and then headed out to find something to eat and to sneak in some quick shopping (mostly it was just an excuse to get out of the rain). Then it was back to the meeting spot, past the huddled masses and off to the entrance of the Vatican museum where we met our tour guide (Yvonne) and got wired up with our special Vatican issued Whisper sets (no it’s not because they’re blessed but rather because the Vatican figured out they could make some serious dough by requiring all the tour groups to pay for Vatican whisper sets… instead of using the ones they already have). Then it was time to fight our way through the crowds entering the building, go through security scanning (not quite airport level but close) and then wait for our Tour Director who had to go off and get our tickets (it’s definitely not the most efficient system). Then it was time to enter the museums and head for the Sistine Chapel. But not before our Tour Guide got pulled aside for the Vatican police to check her credentials (Rome takes their tour industry very very seriously). Turns out she was actually a licensed tour guide so all was well (although she seemed embarrassed it happened and made a point of noting that it was the first time in her life it had ever happened to her).

Once into the museum we saw some of the highlights (Belvedere Apollo, Lacoon and his sons, the Cartography Room, Tapestry Room, a really big marble fountain I forget the name of, a whole bunch of naked dudes with fig leaves) on the way to the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately we had to bypass the very excellent Mesopotamian and Egyptian exhibits and weren’t able to see the Augustus of Prima Porta either. But the real tragedy was having to bypass the Raphael rooms… To be honest, it probably didn’t matter to the kids at this point because the whole museum was so crowded it was hard to move and a few of us started joking that this was actually Hell and that we were trudging off to our eternal damnation. This is supposed to be a low season time for tourism, although the EF groups kind of make it more like a shoulder season, but the crowds at the Vatican were as large as they are during the peak season…

Eventually we made our way to the Sistine Chapel – beautiful but very, very crowded – where a number of students note the irony of the guards quite loudly yelling at people not to take pictures and then asking for silence… From the chapel we made our way back outside and to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica (but first our Tour Guide had to go pay a second fee for our entrance and a second fee for our Whispers). St. Peter’s is amazing – the largest Christian church in the world and nothing but the finest materials… Michelangelo’s “Pieta” is a stunning piece of sculpture and the rest of the church is spectacularly, sumptuously decorated – but in a really tasteful, understated way. We made our way past the various chapels and monuments to sainted popes and then exited… Into even heavier rains.

From St. Peter’s we made our way to a touristy shop selling the usual touristy stuff and a bunch of religious stuff… But they also had bathrooms! We had a few minutes of free time so a few of us made our way down the main avenue to find some hot chocolate (6 euros a cup! so pass on that) and to see the Castel San Angelo and Donatello’s angel sculptures on the Ponte D’Angelo and then scurried back to the meeting place with a few minutes to spare.

From the Vatican we made our way into the massive parking structure carved into the Giancolo (one of the seven hills of ancient Rome) to find our bus and headed to over to the area of the Piazza Novonna and the Pantheon. We decided to bypass the Piazza to see if the Pantheon was still open. It was and we all made our way into this fascinating building (it was originally built as a tempe to all the Roman gods – hence pantheon – but was fairly soon after converted to a Christian church so has been preserved). It was kind cool being inside the building as the rain fell down through the oculus (the massive hole in the domed roof that makes it such an architectural wonder).

Then it was down a couple of side streets to a local pizzeria where we enjoyed an excellent dinner of green salad, pizza and ice cream for dessert. Then it was back out into the elements (fortunately the rain that had dogged us almost all day had slowed to a gentle drizzle) to visit a few more Roman highlights. We walked back to the Piazza Navonna – unfortunately much less lively that it usually is due to the inclement weather. From there we walked to Trevi Fountain (unfortunately under scaffolding due to a major renovation – but at least they left a small basin so people could throw their coins in to guarantee their return to Rome) and from there to the Spanish Steps. Everybody had a good time roaming through the Roman streets after dark… And with the lousy weather, we had most of the sites to ourselves.

From the Spanish Steps it was about a 10 minute walk to our waiting bus and then back to the hotel (about 45 minutes away at this time of night). Once back at the hotel, it was off to the rooms to pack and get ready for tomorrow’s 7:30am departure for Florence.

I think everyone enjoyed Rome although the crowds at the Vatican and the lousy weather took a bit of the shine off this amazing city… Hopefully they’ll make it back to see the restored Trevi Fountain and to spend more time exploring a city where ancient monuments nestle up to middle Ages and Renaissance buildings and monuments on virtually every corner.

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